by Pastor Lauren Muratore (Salem, South Baltimore)
The Delaware-Maryland Synod gathered for Synod Assembly last Thursday through Saturday, as we do every year. This year, in addition to some exciting business and encouraging reports, the Assembly was gathered around a central, grounding theme: Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.
The theme took center stage at Assembly, shaping our prayer, our voting posture, and our perspectives. Whether the topic at hand was climate change, financial stewardship, inclusion and affirmation of folks who identify as LGBTQIA+, or the very future of the church itself, we kept returning to Scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for guidance.
During one “Theme Team” session, the Rev. Dr. Amsalu Geleta and Colleen Carpenter-Gonia challenged the Assembly to think back to our earliest memory of the Bible. After a brief silence at my table, where everyone was reaching back through their memories to seize just the right one, stories came pouring forth. Stories of Sunday school, morning gatherings with family around the breakfast table, even memories of reading the Bible in school! Some struggled to find an answer, others lit up, recalling — viscerally — what it felt like to hold the weight of the Word, to turn the thin pages of scripture.
What’s your earliest memory of the Bible?
We talked about how our individual understandings of and relationship to the Bible has changed over the years, and continues to evolve. There are lots of ways to read the Bible. Use the Bible. Interact with the Bible. Dwell in God’s Word.
We develop questions as we go — sometimes more questions than answers! Colleen shared: “In Sunday school, I asked the teacher, ‘I know the Bible says God created us, but who created God?'” Our keynote speaker, Peter Enns, encouraged us not to shy away from such questions but to let them drive us into a deeper investigation of Scripture, and deeper in love with what God is revealing about Godself in this library of books we hold out to be the source and norm of our faith.
The Assembly also took time to acknowledge that our approach to Scripture matters. That is, Lutherans are pretty big on reading the Bible together, and from many angles. We check our personal understanding of what Scripture is revealing by holding it up to historical context, literary criticism, important theological perspectives, and, of course, what is being revealed to the wider community. Are we reading what we want to read, or what’s actually there?
It strikes me that for all the holy wisdom encapsulated in the Bible, it is so very easily misused. In Apartheid South Africa, as state violence against citizens of color escalated, then President P. W. Botha gave a Bible to every soldier in the South African Defense Force. They carried Scripture in their pockets as they went out to execute segregation and horrific oppression. Those Bibles were inscribed with the message: “This Bible is an important part of your calling to duty. When you are overwhelmed with doubt, pain, or when you find yourself wavering, you must turn to this wonderful book for answers … of all the weapons you carry, this is the greatest because it is the Weapon of God.” And with those words and the Word in hand, soldiers committed atrocities.
Indeed, Scripture has been and still is too often weaponized against people of color, women, queer folks, indigenous peoples, and immigrants — that is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s no wonder so many who believe in a God of mercy, justice, and love have chosen to set this holy tome aside. Walk away from the pages of the Bible and, often, away from the church as well.
It begs the question, why are we still here? And, why do we read on?
Well, as Bishop Gohl highlighted in his sermon for the Assembly on Friday, it is because “the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is because, when read in community, through the lens of Jesus, it is the very same Bible that is so often misused for hateful ends which reveals to us a God who calls all people beloved, who stands with the ones on the margins, who joins us in our sorrows and hurts and in the lowest moments of our lives — so much so that this God would put on skin and be born and walk in the dirt and die on a cross. It is the Bible, in all of its mystery and wonder, by which we first and most clearly experience the God of those who wander, the God of our wild and restless passions, the God of the immigrant and stranger, the God of the oppressed, the God of sunrises and sunsets, the God of imagination, the God of generosity, the God who binds up broken hearts, the God who generates creation itself, the God who is making all things new, the God who died but didn’t stay dead.
And so, we also rise. We reclaim Scripture and commit to read it together (check out the Delaware-Maryland Synod Reads Together Facebook group!). We reclaim Scripture as a guiding force and inspiration in our lives. The Delaware-Maryland Synod Assembly reclaimed Scripture as the source and norm of our faith, and it was beautiful to behold.
Will you join those who attended Synod Assembly in reading the Bible every day?
I’m excited to see what blessings flow from this renewed orientation to our ancient stories, our sacred texts. I’m excited to see what happens when we stop pointing fingers at one another, as the Bishop mentioned we are so wont to do these days, and instead point to Jesus. I can’t wait to see what happens when Lutherans dwell with God’s Word, and then take it to the world.
“For the love of Christ urges us on,” always.
Holy Wisdom, Holy Word.
Thanks be to God.